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ATD Blog

What Makes Training Great?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It isn’t easy to create effective learning events. If it were easy, there would be little need for instructional designers—everyone would build their own learning events. So, your Word of the Day is andragogy, which was popularized by Malcolm Knowles in The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (Knowles 1984).

What do you already know of andragogy? The term refers to the art and science of teaching adults, whose needs differ in many (but not all) ways from children’s. Pedagogy, by distinction, relates to instructing children. Here are six characteristics of adult learners that Knowles noted in his work:

  • Adults need to know why learning something is important before they learn it.
  • Adults have a concept of self and do not like others imposing their wills on them.
  • Adults have a wealth of knowledge and experience and want that knowledge to be recognized.
  • Adults open up to learning when they think that the learning will help them with real problems.
  • Adults want to know how the learning will help them immediately.
  • Adults learn in response to internal (versus external) motivations.

Please read that list again. You want to be able to recite these characteristics. You also want to ensure your designs—or deliveries—honor them.

It is not enough to know the characteristics; you need to act on them as well. What will these six points cause you to do differently going forward? If you are not sure how to answer that question right now, answer it anyway... and only continue reading after you have.


Thank you for your active participation! Now, compare your list to these design actions:

  • Provide learners with practical instruction instead of theoretical concepts.
  • Center instruction on tools that minimize participants’ pain points.
  • Ensure course content is immediately applicable.
  • Build processes that draw out learners’ existing knowledge base.
  • Integrate multiple interactive methods, including group learning, video, case studies, brainstorming, simulations, quizzes, independent reflection, role plays, and so on.
  • Choose activity over lecture.
  • Choose self-directed activity over highly prescribed, “follow me”-type activity.
  • Create opportunities for learners to experiment.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to succeed.
  • Allow sufficient time to debrief activities.
  • Provide specific feedback to learners.

Which of these are you currently doing? Are you performing them as well as possible? Which have been blind spots for you? How will you do things differently for your next course design based on this information?

To make your training great, consider attending one of ATD's certificate programs:

Editor’s note: This is adapted from Same Training, Half the Time, available on Amazon.

About the Author

With her combined passions for effective communication and relevant workplace learning, Kimberly's focus is always on providing direct, complete, and compelling deliverables.  In the training room, her focus is on supporting each learner in meeting their specific learning goals. She achieves this, in part, through engaging and interactive learning that is purpose-driven, enjoyable, and immediately applicable as well as sharing real-world examples and stories. As a seasoned employee and organizational development professional with a Masters Degree from the University of Miami, she was among the first in the industry to attain ATD’s CPTD, formerly CPLP, certification and has authored Same Training - Half the Time, and two titles in ATD's best-selling Trainers Workshop series: Customer Service Training and Facilitation Skills Training. Kimberly’s experience extends to city, county, and state government agencies as well as Fortune 500 firms in the US, South America, and Asia.  She has been a contributor to the ATD community both locally and nationally for many years, serving on boards, presenting conference sessions at ICE and ALC, and also volunteering time for ATD initiatives. You may have seen her in T&D -- now, come learn with her! Kimberly facilitates ATD's Instructional Design Certificate, Training Certificate, Essentials of Staying Centered Through Conflict, Fundamentals of Training Design, Training Certificate Plus, Introduction to Training, and Master Instructional Designer Program.

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Absolutely agree! When I began training, our design was very content-driven - fit in everything you could in the amount of time given. Over the years, we have adapted to reduce content in order to allow time for more application, because application of the learning is the most important part. In my delivery experience the more self-directed and experiential it is, the more effective it is.
I do like a success story, Rebecca! Thank you for sharing yours.
Working title: From "Content Junkie" To "Experience Architect"!
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I participated in a Designing Learning Certificate class led by Kimberly. Reading this article reminds me A LOT of that experience--Kimberly really took the time to focus us on what will help our adult learners acquire the knowledge we need them to learn. I applied my newly acquired knowledge to a call center training program that was hailed as the most well-organized and effective the call center had ever implemented. That's mostly due to you, Kimberly! Great reminders!
It was my pleasure to collaborate with you Alexandra -- and it was YOUR application of the skills that resulted in such accolades! Thank you for the shout out. Looking forward to the next time our paths cross...
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Thank you for always including opportunities for participants to succeed in the classroom. This approach increases likelihood of relevant, on the job application.
Indeed, Pamela! And, isn't THAT what it is all about?
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